Lunch with...Linda Bhreathnach - "I'm not at all like Róise, the real me can be found on the Camino trail"
Ros na Rún star loves acting, travel and Irish but is really at home among family in Connemara, writes Anita Guidera
Not many actresses stroll into their first job straight from school and remain in continuous employment for the next 12 years. But Linda Bhreathnach – who has played Róise de Búrca in the TG4 Irish soap Ros na Rún since she was a teenager – counts herself among the lucky ones.
The 30-year-old Gaeilgeoir from Rosmuc in Connemara has finally parted company with her less lucky screen self for pastures new.
"I really listened to my heart. I think it was the right time and I was ready. But I will never lose all that experience because it is so connected to who I am," she muses over a late lunch in the Oyster Bar of the commanding Hotel Meyrick on Galway's Eyre Square.
Considering its long association with Hollywood actors, the former Great Southern Hotel seems a fitting meeting point. My lunch guest breezes in late and apologetic. At the last minute she had to step in to help her dad out in Tig Mhic, the busy family pub in Rosmuc.
After a distracted glance at the menu she chooses a Thai green curry, assuming it was a vegetarian dish – she doesn't eat meat or fish – but the confusion was quickly rectified.
Getting ready to pose for the picture, she jokes about the vintage slip she had put on at the last minute before leaving, hoping it would pass for a top.
"I never wore this before. I thought I would get away with it. Maybe I can't. I don't know."
Engaging, self-deprecating, thoughtful, Linda is about as far removed from the character she has played as you could possibly imagine but she can't help but sympathise with all Róise has been through.
"Oh my God. There has been so much. She got pregnant with her sister's boyfriend. Her sister pushed her down the stairs and she lost the baby.
"She accidentally killed her uncle, who was a crazy sociopath, only she didn't actually kill him – somebody else finished him off and she got framed for murder.
"Then she has to rescue her sister because her sister's ex-husband tried to kill her. It's been madness," she laughs, pausing for breath.
More recently, Róise was raped and badly beaten and then ended up embarking on an affair with the married doctor whom she was attending for counselling.
Small wonder Linda needed a change of pace.
"I'd done 10 seasons, so I asked to be written out in January," she says.
Acting was so much on Linda's mind when she left school that she didn't even fill out a CAO form. So when the opportunity arose to be cast as a sassy teenager in a new family that was being introduced to the popular soap Ros na Rún, she jumped at it.
"It was exciting. I remember getting the call that I had got the job and I really freaked out. I was only 17 and it was my first audition. It was even before the Leaving results came out but I still think when you are that age you take it for granted a bit," she says, thoughtfully.
The fact that it was an Irish language role hardly entered her head.
"I'm definitely passionate about the Irish language. I mean I'm from Connemara. It's in my blood but for me there was no real difference.
"I am happy to be a part of keeping the language alive, you know, and sharing it with other people. I'm proud of that but it wasn't something I set out to do. I just wanted to act," Linda explains.
She shot her final scenes in August and, by then, she was already in the midst of her next project – a leading role in the second season of the IFTA award-winning Corp + Anam, a gritty new crime drama series in the Irish language with a rivetting opening sequence.
She plays a camerawoman for the lead character Cathal, a journalist who chases news stories around the country. "She is tough, kind of like one of the guys. It's a great, great script. Darach [Mac Con Iomaire] is such an awesome director," she says excitedly.
Her speech is peppered with bilingual colloquialisms as she glides effortlessly between Irish and English. She is full of praise for the acting talents of her co-star, Maria Doyle Kennedy.
"Is iontach aisteoir í. Ta sí, just like, comh nádúrtha, so effortless, you know, such screen presence."
Shooting ends in November and Linda is unsure what comes after that.
"That's like five years in actor years," she erupts into peels of laughter.
"For me that's as good as it gets right now and I am quite happy. I feel comfortable with that."
In preparation for a new, less secure acting future, she got herself her first agent this summer and seems content for now at least to stay near home and a family to whom she is clearly very close.
Her parents met in New York when her mother was 21 and her father was 18.
"They are both from Connemara but they had never met. Dad was on holidays after his Leaving Cert and he met Mum who was living there at the time. It was love at first sight. They are still very much in love. It's cute. They laugh a lot together," she says.
The couple – who have four daughters – returned to run the family business founded by Linda's great-grandfather.
"I think Dad is a feminist," she giggles. "I swear to God, he is a big scary macho guy, but with so many females around him, he comes out with things and I am like, 'wow, you are so cool'. He is super-intelligent. He definitely thinks outside the box," she says proudly.
Happily single for the past two years after a decade of continuous relationships, Linda, a former Miss Galway, has taken advantage of extended time off between soap seasons to travel extensively. She spent a summer in San Francisco and has travelled throughout the US, Europe and Asia.
But her most memorable and cathartic experience has been the four weeks she spent walking the French Way of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
"I had read this book years ago and there was a chapter about the Camino and I thought it was a made-up place but I loved the idea of it. I thought it was so freakin' cool, all these people going to the same place to do this one simple thing.
"There's something so mystical and simple about it. Then I discovered it was real and I saw the maps and it was like looking at lost treasure maps."
At the time Linda was under pressure from work and studying for an arts degree at NUI Galway. The thought of getting up every day and not caring how she looked and not having to put on make-up or have any responsibilities except to walk was appealing.
She doesn't say it but there is a hint of sadness, perhaps even heartache as she describes how her wise mother gently guided her through that time.
"One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my mother. I was going through a tough time and she got me the Beatles album Let It Be and it was so lovely.
"I was craving that time to just be. I wanted to walk alone to see what I would discover about myself. After however many weeks I realised all the silly things we worry about in life that are so ridiculous.
"There was no major epiphany but it was like daily, little mini-epiphanies, like getting back to the simplicity of life, eating, sleeping, walking, you know enjoying being outdoors and realising that what it all boils down to is having your health and being able to appreciate the beauty around you and letting go of stuff."
Since her return, she spends more time out of doors, walking in the hills and appreciating the good things about home, like the Irish pub culture which she is convinced cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Although an avid user of social media, Linda is critical of a contemporary culture where people seem to be judged by their appearance.
"It's like so much gets lost in translation when it comes to photography. You cannot come close to capturing the beauty of a human being in a picture."
A life in brief: Linda Bhreathnach
BEAUTY Miss Galway 2007 and runner-up for Miss Ireland.
TV ROLES Played Róise de Burca in Ros na Rún, 2000-2013.
* Plays Sarah Regan in Corp + Anam (pictured), ongoing.
* Played Eithne in Seacht, 2008-2010.
* Played Fiona Flynn in The Running Mate, 2007.
* Played Lúsaí Ní Chadhain in Aifric, 2006-2007.
DID YOU KNOW? Her most unusual job was as a puppeteer in 2006 when she travelled around Ireland with a puppet theatre company performing Irish language shows.